Scots’ Fletcher out of Lithuania match

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Scotland drew 1-1 with Lithuania at Hampden last year
World Cup qualifier: Lithuania v Scotland
Venue: LFF Stadionas, Vilnius Date: Friday, 1 September Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Radio Scotland 810MW, plus live text commentary via the BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app

Darren Fletcher has been ruled out of Scotland’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania with a knee injury.

Fletcher did not travel with the Scotland squad on Thursday and will not be available for Monday night’s game against Malta at Hampden either.

Forward Steven Fletcher and midfielder Tom Cairney are also missing, with West Brom midfielder James Morrison called into the squad as a replacement.

“He’s a loss to the squad,” Strachan said when asked about Darren Fletcher.

“He’s a fantastic example of how you behave as an international player on and off the pitch. He’s the best lesson young kids can get, watching people like him.”

An ever-present in the Premier League for Stoke City following his summer move from West Brom, Fletcher would not have started the game in Vilnius, his last cap coming in a friendly against Canada in March.

Central midfield is an area where Scotland are well-armed. Scott Brown, James McArthur, John McGinn and Morrison can all play in that role should Strachan deploy his 4-2-3-1 against the Lithuanians in what is a must-win game.

Strachan usually resists such talk but he has not hidden from it this time. It is blatantly obvious what Scotland need to do and if they were in any doubt Andrew Robertson, now of Liverpool, spelled it out with his international manager sitting alongside him.

‘Plenty of time to worry later’ – Scotland manager Gordon Strachan

“All the players believe, all the coaching staff believe and I think after the last couple of performances (the home win against Slovenia and that tumultuous draw against England), the fans have got their belief back,” said Robertson.

“Against England, our fans were magnificent. By all accounts they’re here in numbers again and if they can get behind the boys then that will give us an extra lift. It’s not too late for us (to make the play-offs as group runners-behind England). We’ve got four games and we’re looking to get maximum points. We want to win every game and if we do that then we’ll see where we stand.”

Strachan said he believed that his team were good enough to win any game while also having the fragility that could see them lose every game.

“We know our frailties and we know our strengths,” he said. “Recently, there’s been more strengths than frailties and we’ll try to build on that. We’ll show Lithuania respect, a lot of respect. If you’ve got a good team spirit, which they have, then you have to fight their team spirit with your team spirit and your ability.”

Strachan has some choices to make in his line-up. The back four probably picks itself now – Robertson and Kieran Tierney as the full-backs with Charlie Mulgrew and Christophe Berra at centre-half.

Brown and a Strachan favourite, Barry Bannan, might be just ahead of them. McArthur and Morrison are in the picture as well.

Robert Snodgrass (centre) scored a hat-trick against Malta, but has struggled for form recently

Ahead of those? Matt Phillips, Matt Ritchie and James Forrest with Ryan Fraser in the mix as well are all vying for the wide slots with the incumbent Robert Snodgrass, seeing his chances of starting perhaps receding given what Strachan said in his press conference.

Snodgrass has just joined Aston Villa after a very unhappy time at West Ham, during which he played little football of any note and the bit that he did play was on the left, while he favours the right.

“I’ve not got a problem playing Robert but there are lots of other people playing in his position who are playing right-well, that’s for sure. We are really strong in some areas.”

There’s also an interesting situation surrounding who plays between those wide men. Stuart Armstrong has not returned to his best form of last season. Morrison could be the one instead.

Leigh Griffiths will surely start up front on his own. What Strachan would give for another one of this trademark free-kicks on Friday. What he would also give for no defensive vulnerability on a night when Scotland simply must deliver on their promise of recent games.

Andrew Robertson (right) says the England performance has given the ‘fans their belief back’


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